Archive for Walter Tevis

Pg. 17, #13

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2020 by dcairns

His room was high-ceilinged and ornately furnished. He noticed a television set built into the wall in such a way that it could be viewed from the bed and he smiled tiredly on seeing it — he would have to watch it sometime, to see how their reception compared to that on Anthea. And it would be amusing to see some of the shows again. He had always liked the Westerns, even though the quiz programmes and the Sunday ‘educational’ shows had provided his staff at home with most of the information that he had memorized. He had not seen a television show in . . . how long had the trip taken? . . . four months. And he had been on earth two months, getting money, studying the disease germs, studying the food and water, perfecting his accent, reading the newspapers, preparing himself for the critical interview with Farnsworth.

*

‘Jesus,’ Don said, rattling the paper. ‘At the Tropical Drive-in they’re showing five John Wayne movies! Who in hell could sit through five John Waynes, for Christ sake?’

*

If I have, I’ve turned it off. Not out of bitterness. I do that with any picture I’ve ever worked on. When they’re over, they’re done. I’m not interested in them any longer.

*

‘Time to be getting back to the studio,’ Chatsworth announced, rising and stretching himself. ‘Dr. Bergmann’s coming along with us, Sandy, Have that Rosemary Lee picture run for him, will you? What the hell’s it called?”

*

‘Even if I described it to you, I doubt if you’d understand what it is.’

*

“We can’t go on calling the child number seven behind his back. It’s most improper and injurious.”

*

After the Three Stooges the curtains came to, but then when they put the next picture on they stuck halfway. We all cheered and then The Bull got this long pole and pulled back the curtains with it. Not that it mattered much because this that they put on now was a travel thing about Paris or something, and this kid in front of me started flicking little silver paper pellets into the light to make it sparkle. The Bull saw him and clonked him on the nut with this long curtain pole and gave him his first warning. Good job for us The Bull was after these seats and Chinese Charlie was up at the front else we’d’ve been out three week since.

*

You know the drill. Seven bits of seven page seventeens.

The Man Who Fell to Earth, by Walter Tevis; The Shark Infested Custard, by Charles Willeford; Backstory 4, edited by Patrick McGilligan; interview with Robert Benton by Christian Keithley; Prater Violet, by Christopher Isherwood; A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole; Darkness Visible by William Golding; The Tuppenny Rush, by Norman Smithson, from the collection Best Movie Stories, edited by Guy Slater

I gazed a gazely stare

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2015 by dcairns

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The main reason to do Seventies Sci-Fi Week was probably as an excuse to re-watch THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH. I see DON’T LOOK NOW semi-regularly as it’s a good one to show students. A friend once described it as the Nicolas Roeg film for people who don’t like Nicolas Roeg films, but that’s doing it a disservice.

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SORDID DETAILS FOLLOWING

Now, I’m sure I’d seen TMWFTE in its correct ratio, but it must have been a TV airing or something, because it was definitely cut. I was shocked — shocked! — this time, to find myself gazing upon Rip Torn’s penis, which I’m sure couldn’t have slipped my memory. Jeez — just using the words “Rip Torn” and “penis” in a sentence feels supremely uncomfortable, like I might have to walk in a shuffling crouch for the rest of the day. I don’t recall the camera gazing so earnestly or so long at Candy Clark’s pubic thatch, either. It occupies so much screen space it’s like gazing upon flock wallpaper.

Roeg really was very, very interested in sex, wasn’t he? I recall some producer saying he traded dates with Roeg when he was dating Clark — I have to wonder, though it’s none of my business and of no importance to anything, whether Roeg was a swinger. It would make a kind of sense of all those sex scenes with Theresa Russell, who was his wife of the time, and the story told by Roeg’s producer that he was dating Candy Clark when he met Roeg and they “swapped dates,”

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SMILING AND WAVING AND LOOKING SO FINE

But nothing can explain the mystery of what Roeg’s camera does to women, somehow preserving them without amber. Consider: Agutter looks lovely, Clark is impossibly well-preserved, Julie Christie is still a goddess, and Russell has basically not aged at all. Since Roeg’s films explore and mess with time, I’m wondering if he imparts some stasis field or biological slomo to his stars, retarding the ageing process almost indefinitely?

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WHEN IT’S BAD I GO TO PIECES

Thomas Jerome Newton is a perfect name. The first two set up a nice air of Englishness and a smokescreen for the third, which is a very pointed reference to the idea of things falling to Earth. It’s also a very euphonious name.

I read Walter Tevis’ source novel years ago, and really liked it. In some ways, better than the film, because I liked how logical it was. Paul Mayersberg’s script throws in conspirators and possible other aliens from other planets than Bowie/Newton’s. Where the humans in the book refuse to believe Newton is an alien — no matter how different his internal organs, it will always be easier for them to regard him as a freak of nature than as an extraterrestrial. The film’s hints of other aliens kind of muddies this idea. In the book, the humans insist on X-raying TJN’s eyes, despite his pleas that he can see X-rays and will be blinded. They blind him. In the film, the X-rays cause his human-alike contact lenses to become stuck to his eyes. It’s an interesting idea — he loses his identity, his specialness, the starman is reduced to being one of us. My problem with it is it makes no sense, is childish as a plot device.

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HOLLYWOOD HIGHS

Quibbles aside — Bowie is magnificently cast, as,  are Buck Henry and Rip Torn and Clark. The old-age makeup bothered me a bit — but it does make this a neat double bill with THE HUNGER, where Bowie ages until his head is a great big wad of Dick Smith rubber wrinkles. In TMWFTE, Bowie stays the same and everyone else ages, Clark eventually puffballing up into something like the Woman Behind the Radiator in ERASERHEAD. Booze will do that to you.

Slightly regret the over-familiar NASA stock shots, but then The Six Million Dollar Man hadn’t happened yet so maybe it seemed like a good idea. But then Bowie/Newton’s first glimpses of Earth — a billowing inflatable clown head, an incoherent, aggressive drunk, are amazing and really do let you see your world through alien eyes, or the eyes of a little child.

Some of Roeg’s music choices are a bit literal — excerpts from Holst’s The Planets Suite, Hello Mary Lou — but all that trippy xylophonic wooziness is amazing. Much better to be led by mood than by a rigid idea when it comes to the tunes, I think.

Bowie said it was hard work keeping his face impassive, and Clark, interviewed recently in the BBC’s marvelous Five Years doc on Bowie’s creative heyday, protested that he was always emoting and she got a lot out of his performance. I think he must have been talking about his scenes in alien makeup, when he’s utterly deadpan. The rest of the time, his features are an elastic dance of pout and pucker, micro-frowns and mini-gogglings playing over his visage like ripples on a choppy pond, so one can well see why holding this shimmer of emotion in check would have been difficult. It feels like he’s just responding naturally to everything, like the interplanetary visitor he is, without any interference from his director at all. “Don’t fuck with a natural,” was Nick Ray’s advice, and Roeg takes it.

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AND SHE’S HOOKED TO THE SILVER SCREEN

What are all the movies TJN watches on his multiple TVs? There seems to be a Stacy Keach psychodrama, and I’m guessing it may be the neglected END OF THE ROAD (Roeg would enjoy the editing in that one — director Aram Avakian was formerly Coppola’s cutter). At one point, I think he’s watching TWO Denholm Elliott movies at once (bliss!), THE SOUND BARRIER and Lewis Milestone’s THEY WHO DARE. As if summoned by occult invocation, Elliott would duly turn up in person for BAD TIMING.

Many movies have central metaphors for their main theme — TMWFTE has a metaphor for its director’s style. As Mick Jones of The Clash and Big Audio Dynamite put it, watching a Roeg film is like watching twenty televisions at once. It’s not the speed of the cutting, which is only sometimes rapid, it’s the boldness of the juxtapositions — visual and aural.

Martin Scorsese used to like putting on different movies in different rooms of his house and wandering from one to the other (we see Jerry Lewis doing the same in KING OF COMEDY). Channel hopping can throw out great bits of cinematic fold-in technique. I used to like putting on Bowie tracks and channel hopping with the sound down — chances are, the images would start hooking up with the lyrics and the rhythm. I recommend it. Turn the colour off and make everything look like an art movie — works very well for Animal Planet.

Gin is optional.

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